Depending on your perspective, Jason D. Andrews is either an anachronistic victim of America's lingering reefer madness, or he's the luckiest criminal defendant in the recent annals of the war on weed.
Seventeen years after California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 215, the so-called "Compassionate Use Act," many medical-marijuana activists continue to face criminal prosecution, often without the ability to even mention "medical marijuana" in their own defense. Andrews, a Fullerton resident and founder of the Pro215.com cannabis collective, is one of them.
That said, it's hard to imagine a more bizarre story of how this particular pot activist ended up in the crosshairs of the law. In fact, you could kind of say he volunteered for the job.
Following a 25-year construction career, Andrews suffered four ruptured discs in his spine thanks to a pair of car crashes. He also says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder because his mother bled to death in his arms 15 years ago after throat surgery gone wrong. In 2008, after years of self-medicating with marijuana, he got a physician's statement allowing him to grow and possess up to 52 ounces of cannabis per year, as well as a state-issued primary caregiver's card. The next year, he filed articles of incorporation and obtained a seller's permit for Pro215.com, a public benefit corporation with the stated purpose of providing "medicine to patients who are unable to provide for themselves."
Through his collective, Andrews grew marijuana and provided it to people who qualified to smoke cannabis under state law. Any leftover pot was provided to other collectives of which he was a member, including Mark Moen's ill-fated 215 Agenda (see "Marijuana Martyr," April 9, 2010) and Cafe Vale Tudo, both of which were located in the same Lake Forest mini-mall until city officials backed by federal prosecutors succeeded in forcing the landlord to evict them at the risk of losing his property.
On Oct. 12, 2010, Andrews and his wife, also a card-carrying cannabis patient, visited the Cafe Vale Tudo collective with a pound of marijuana. "I asked them if they wanted it, and they said 'no,'" Andrews says. "They owed me some money, and I left with an IOU and the pound of medicine I brought with me." As it turned out, a pair of Orange County sheriff's detectives were sitting in the parking lot, surveilling the dispensary. They followed Andrews' black Dodge Ram pickup truck northbound on Interstate 5 and pulled him over near Tustin Ranch Road.
According to the detectives' report on the incident, they could smell a "strong odor of marijuana" when they approached the truck. Andrews appeared nervous, the report states, and he "continued to talk about medical marijuana without being questioned." Inside a bag, they found two 8-ounce sacks of marijuana, as well as $5,800 in cash, much of it rubber-banded in rolls of $20 bills. Andrews also had approximately $600 in his wallet.
According to Andrews, the money was change from when he purchased a $5,000 ring for his wife with proceeds from a "car settlement." However, based on the pot and cash in the car, as well as numerous text messages on Andrews' cell phone with exchanges such as "Just cut down 10 pounds of the Super silver haze" and "How much is a q of the bubba," the detectives surmised that "Jason may have been selling marijuana." After seizing both the marijuana and the money, detectives cited Andrews for speeding and released him, "pending further investigation."
Weeks went by, and no charges were filed—although he wasn't getting his cash back any time soon. Andrews might have considered himself lucky and walked away. Instead, by his own admission, he began telephoning the detectives and, eventually, the Orange County district attorney's office, demanding to know whether he was going to be prosecuted. "Because I'm an activist, I started calling the sheriffs who pulled me over, the DA, watch commanders, captains. I asked the same question: 'What is your process regarding the California ID card? Don't you know how to verify it?'"
Finally, all those calls appeared to pay off. Andrews says an exasperated detective told him "if I didn't stop harassing him, he'd file charges." The following Monday, Andrews checked the sheriff's department website for arrest warrants and saw his name on the list, he says. He retained an experienced marijuana defense attorney, Christopher Glew, and went to court. Immediately, according to Glew, prosecutors offered Andrews an amazing deal: Cop to a misdemeanor charge of pot possession, commit no crimes for a year, and the case will disappear from your record. He refused.
"The information I received was that the case was filed because of Mr. Andrews' incessant hounding of law enforcement," Glew says. "They were just going to let it go, but there were several offers he rejected to make sure he had his day in court."
Andrews testified in his defense during the summer 2012 trial, and, according to Glew, he acquitted himself well. "He didn't dodge any questions," Glew says. "It's always a gamble, but it probably helped him because he was brutally honest." Unfortunately, Glew adds, the judge refused to allow him to mention medical marijuana in his closing arguments, thus hamstringing his trial strategy at the proverbial 11th hour. "If you can't mention state law, the Compassionate Use Act, then there is no defense," Glew explains. "I had to stand in front of the jury and tell them that Mr. Andrews' actions were legitimate, but I couldn't mention any evidence."
What neither Glew nor anyone else could have possibly predicted was that one of the jurors simply could not bring himself to convict Andrews, given that he felt his actions were legal under state law. Call it an insanely fortunate stroke of luck. The juror, who asked to remain anonymous, now says he resisted pressure from other jurors, including one who feared she was going to miss an important business meeting, to find Andrews guilty and move on with their lives.
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"All of the other jurors were like, 'Why are you wasting our time?'" he recalls. "They made me talk to the judge, saying I was trying to corrupt justice."
The juror says he answered several questions, and without admonishing him, the judge told him to continue deliberating. Because Andrews had gone "through all the hoops the county and state told him to go through," the juror adds, "they can't tell you to do that, and then say you're in the wrong."
After several days of fruitless deliberations, the trial ended in a hung jury. Andrews' second trial was originally scheduled for January 2013, but it has been subjected to several delays. Since then, following a substantial federal crackdown on California's medical-marijuana industry, voters in Colorado and Washington states legalized recreational pot, a goal that is shared by no less than three competing initiatives likely to go before voters in November 2014.
Andrews is clearly a man on a mission. He's determined to get his case before another jury. "My goal is to get the laws changed," he says. "It is going to take people like me to go out and make a little noise because if nobody does, more people will go through the same thing I did."